Roads and Tracks We Have Traveled (Part Five We Continue Across the Kimberley)

Monday, Apr 02, 2012 at 10:53

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

We had just registered at the Mt Barnett Roadhouse and driven the 7klms of the washed out track to the Manning Gorge campground. This is a very busy affair set beside the Manning River. Here midway across the wide stretch of water is a rocky out crop making a great place for campers to enjoy a swim and to relax in the sun. The down side was that the camp toilets could not keep up especially after the generator stopped pumping water after 9pm.
The feature of the area however is the Manning Falls about a 1 1/2 hour walk following a track through long grass, rocky outcrops and across two reasonably rough gullies before you scramble down over the rocks to once again meet the Manning River. But first you need to swim the river at the camp, - nowadays they improvise with foam boxes to enable you tom carry over cameras, clothing, boots and food etc. - the alternative is about a 20 minute walk downstream which added to the 1 1/2 hour trek makes the swim very attractive.

Once at the falls though you can spend hours (that's what the five of us did) swimming under the waterfall and later the ladies cruised downriver body-surfing the rocks whilst Dennis and I scrambled with all the possessions to meet them downstream. Here about 100 metres from the falls there are pleasant swimming holes and further down, the gorge envelopes the river again. We had a great day out there again. By the time we returned to the camp following the welcome swim back across the river our other companions had the kettle boiling for a well deserved cuppa. At times on the path back through the waist high grass you asked yourself the question " what am I doing here in shorts etc, this is King Brown country?" Although plenty of people make the walk out when we arrived there, crowding was far from an issue. It is certainly worth making the effort to visit these impressive falls.

30klms further east is the Barnett River Gorge, a 3klm track wanders in passing several campsites. Eventually we were forced to bush-bash our way, having missed the walking trail, into a lovely spot on the Barnett River where with the temperature well above 30 there was no hesitation in taking a dip in the water. Dennis and I wandered another 800 metres or so and found the gorge stretching out below us, beautifully blue with the bordering paperbarks teeming with Flying Foxes.

After lunch we tackled the Gibb River Road again this time for just 10klms before turning into Mt Elizabeth Station and a further 30kms to the homestead. We were certainly making big inroads into the 600klm crossing of the Gibb River Road - 40klms today. It was a corrugated trip in, passing Dodnun community , then the airstrip the finally to the reception area with its magnificent stone table. Camping fees reduced from $12 to $10/head if you stayed 3 nights - yes that will do us. The station offered an art tour at $99/head, with all seven of us interested the girls went to work negotiating a tag-a long in two vehicles at $44/head all inclusive for 2 days time - well done. Speaking of the station itself it runs 6000 head of Shorthorn and Brahman cattle on 650,00 hectares of leased country. The Kimberly leases are all due to expire in 2015, but the family had already arranged to extend its lease for another 45 years. It was first taken up in 1945 by the current Stacey family's grandfather.but times are hard and the country is to high for good fattening conditions necessary for the live export industry. As a consequence they rely a lot on tourism, in fact 60% of the station comes from this source (2008 details).

A few hundred metres from the campground is a small creek, a visit here each evening and early morning was very pleasant. A 4klm self guided walk also starts from here. One of the features of Mt Elizabeth is Wunnumurra Gorge and after lunch we set off for the 10klm, 1 hour drive to it. The track deteriorated over the last 4klms to a rock scramble and involved quite a bit of road rebuilding to allow the lower vehicles access. On reaching the end of the track there was another 15- 20 minute walk to the end of the gorge during the hottest part of the day. Once there however with water flowing over the falls we climbed down (again with the aid of a ladder, which had to be shifted to access the different levels) and were soon swimming in the pool below, under the falls and in quite warm water (about 3 on our scale). It certainly was a very pretty place with the wide gorge extending away from the falls and the lovely setting above them. An excellent day ended with the drive back along the rocky track and home with the setting sun highlighting the bush surrounding us. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The next day with morning tea and lunch provided we left camp at 8 am for the 7 hour, 90klm art tour. Following the beginning of the Walcott Inlet track and crossing the Hann River and Mary Creek we made our way through several art sites culminating with the intruiging 'Morella Creating Spirit' site (Wadjina figure several meters long set back under an elevated over hang). As we entered this site our guide, Bill, quietly asked the spirit's permission "to enter the area, these visitors are friendly". The spirit figure was certainly impressive and looked out over his country. We saw plenty of Bradshaw (Gwion) figures including Keon (peg figures), headresses and tassles as well as Wadjina works. Graham Walsh who documented much of the Kimberly Bradshaw sites featured some of the figures from this station in his published works. Bill, who used to run the Bachsten Wilderness Camp about halfway to Walcott Inlet, explained that the trip out there was very rough taking about 8 hours for the first 150klms to the camp and a further 5 hours for the 70klm to the inlet itself. It would be a great trip through magnificent country. We lunched at the pretty Morella Pool where more art work and a burial site exists. It was also a great place to swim among small fish and turtles.

From Mt Elizabeth Station along the Gibb River Road crossing the peaceful Hann River where a small camping site we had previously noted is now signed as a designated Day Use Area only - and then into the junction with the road to Kalumburu. We crossed the causeway of the Gibb River, once again designated a Day Use area although people do camp on the other side where the sign seemed to have disappeared. We stopped at Drysdale Station briefly for an enjoyable Hamburger lunch and to refuel (the station has excellent camping facilities and will get you out of trouble if you need repairs - at a cost) We called into Miners Pool (the stations bush camping ground) and then north over the Drysdale River crossing and along the variable road towards the King Edward River, our next destination. The road was severely corrugated after we passed the grader about 12klms from the turnoff to the river.

The crossing of the King Edward River went without any problems with the river only about 40cms high, about 100 metres after the crossing we turned off to look at the first of the two aboriginal art sites in this area, mainly Wadjina with some Bradshaw figures. On our first visit here in 2002 Brenda and I found a burial site as well but could not find it this time. The second site about 3klms past the campground is much better and we spent over an hour there the next day, here we did locate the other burial site we saw on our previous visit. There are many good examples of Gwion figures among the extensive sandstone rocks here. There are two camping sites by the river now both with toilet facilities but no longer with a camp host to look after them (on this trip). Needless to say it is a great place to camp by the King Edward River, great for swimming in the vigorous water and a fascinating and extensive area of water-worn rock ledge.

There had been a lot of reports that the road to the Mitchell Plateau was 'the one to hell' from here but luckily for us the grader (the first time for a number of years) had completed its work. Not that the road was smooth at all but at least it was drivable, with care. There was plenty of traffic including a couple of over zealous 'Fritz in Brits' over the almost 80klm trip. The Mitchell Plateau campground all but filled up by the end of the day and it is strictly controlled with no campfires before 4pm or after 8am. There is plenty to do here including a walk to the nearby Little Merton Falls. This is a good place to swim and below the falls there is an extensive 'art gallery'. This area is also the only location of the hard to find Black Grass Wren and although we were told of one sighting we tried several times without success.

The next morning we headed to the Mitchell Falls, a 3klm walk or if you like a $90 5 minute helicopter flight - we opted to walk. It's a brilliant walk passing Little Merton Falls and the Merton Falls and although no water was running over them it provides a great view down into the depths of the gorge and we could just make out a 'freshie' in the water below. It's a little unnerving to watch how close some people venture towards the edge of this very deep gorge. Past here there is more extensive art on a ledge about 500 metres before you reach the Mitchell River itself. We spent several hours looking over the falls, alongside the falls and around the front of the falls - just once again marveling at the majestic scenery in front of us. It is just so easy to sit and gaze over this most serene place. The only distraction is that bloody helicopter every 30 minutes - it would be great view from it though and two of our party chose to take this option. If there is one place in Australia you should visit I reckon this is it, we count ourselves lucky that we have been able to do so twice and have flown over it once in the past ten years. Plenty of time for a swim in the river above the falls before our walk out viewing once again the rock art and a swim below the Little Merton Falls. The extensive art work in this area is composed of 4 types - Bradshaw (estimated at more than 17,000 years old) Wadjina (1,000 years) Irregular Infill paintings (30-40,000 years) and clawed hand paintings (7,000 years).

We retraced our steps back to the King Edward River but not before we had walked to the top of the nearby ridge-line getting a 'specky' view of the Merton Gorge and the Mitchell River in the distance. Another night spent at King Edward River again swimming and sitting under the small waterfalls bracing the force of the water - magic moments. It was also Alison's 58th birthday and Brenda (as a surprise) manufactured a delicious cake in her Dreampot and Dutch oven, with candles (supplied by Val) to mark this auspicious event. Al reckoned the best birthday present was just being here and visiting the Mitchell Falls. How true.

Next time continuing our tripping through the Kimberly and the road to Kalumburu.
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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